The Chronicles of Korvakopla #1

These following posts are taken off Tablets of Dleinr, at I started posting them here to get some more audience for them, in part due to a suggestion from Tommi.

Here shall be found the story of our D&D 4e party. The difference between what’s here and what’s at Tablets of Dleinr is I’ve edited some posts and will leave others out, mostly because the originals (and especially the older ones) were mostly written for an audience of one -or two, counting myself. The early stages (levels 4 through to 11) were not covered because I hadn’t thought to write about them all that much. If the first posts seem lacking in direction, that’s why. Also, plenty of what I said was response to questions from Tommi, and leaving out parts of his posts from this blog might further suggest that I have the attention span of an ant on acid.

This blog started at ToD first as a continuing commentary on 4th Edition features, changes from 3e, balance issues and the like. Since that it’s expanded to include material focused on the party itself, and now I will attempt to produce Actual Play Reports, with an eye out for mechanics as well as plot. (You’ll get the joke there eventually.) There’s a lot of junk to post, so I will set myself an arbitrary word limit per post, you know, as a contingency plan against someone actually finding cause to comment. The theory is that this will make reading and commenting easier.

Let’s begin.
Post 1, 5th of June, 2008

The main changes in low levels from 3rd are ones that suit me just fine. No more need to avoid combat altogether at low levels because of lack of hp or criticals from CR 1/bignumber cretins. Also, you can deal damage now, even at level 1. This is all good.
I’m also reminded why D&D is so easy to like.
Post 2, 26th of October, 2008

*Some months later*

The rate of play has regularized at one per week. The current campaign, second since I started playing at Excalibur (an RPG club near my locale), has been going on for a while now, and has seen our characters from fourth level to eleventh in the latest session. That means we got to Paragon-levels, whoo! I joined at level four, not sure from what level the others had started at since I joined midway. If they’ve gone from level one on up… Cheers.

Current characters and players:
Faler, elf rogue (mine, also the char I joined with). I was familiar with D&D 3e prior to 4e, and had fair understanding over balance issues and some eye for exploits and the like.
Tannel, elf wizard (one of the original characters, I believe). The player doesn’t care so much about being powerful as most probably do, but had still played a some 3e.
Joaquim, eladrin (elf) wizard (replaced the gnoll ranger of the player’s first character, who fell out with the rest of the party. Means he didn’t die, fancy that). The player is very experienced with 3e and understands the game well.
Argo, minotaur cleric (why minotaur? Go figure. Possibly one of the originals, might have had some paladin earlier, dunno). Don’t know about this one’s prior D&D involvement, actually. Huh.
Tsardis, genasi swordmage (second D&D game ever for the player, new character. Replaced the previous guy and his dragonborn warlord, who got killed).

On the subject of very general game balance I’ll say that the team-based format has so far worked on all levels. All characters take turns being the deciding factor in different difficult fights or simply the most efficient one in easier ones.
This turn-taking manifests the Gummy Bear Principle (a reference to a proverb known well in the ranks of privates in the Finnish military; “Ei mee nallekarkit tasan intissä”, which essentially translates to “things aren’t always fair for everyone”), but everyone still gets to be important. As power creep piles up, I expect this will get more and more skewed, but if we compare this to the situation in D&D3, we’re at least not climbing vertical walls; at this level mages would already have started being gods to fighter types, without even need for that much non-core material. In 4E, the mundane characters are still keeping pace.

One dark note about game balance is the equipment. It should surprise no one here that items are still fundamental to increasing in character power, as surely as levels if not as directly. We can and have found usable equipment, yes. On a precious few occasions we even found items that were beyond our level at the time, such as a +3 longbow that no one had any damn use for. That one still bugs me, because on my suggestion it was deconstructed into residuum and made into another weapon. Later it turns out that the wizards could have just transferred the +3 to another item with one of their Rituals. I suck.
Anyway, other than that we only found +3 items in the hoard of a red dragon whose demise was the final checkpoint along our way to Paragon Paths. The power creep in items has thus not been very turn-key, I might say, especially since (and this is important), gold is not something you find that much. The prices for buying good stuff are and will always be beyond one’s current level. One +3 weapon of any sort costs around 27k, and in the dragon’s hoard we found 18k. And that was the major jackpot, probably doubling or at least increasing by half what we had found in the whole campaign so far. So 3600 per person, which means if I want to buy myself a new and sweeter piece of armor, we’ll need to kill half a dozen more of the damn things. This is not an optimal state for things to be. I look at those items in the books that cost millions and wonder when the gold will start flowing in.
So, if you don’t find new items as loot, you’re only going to be buying things named “acrobat boots”. I went through all these sessions, dozens of hours of play and seven levels with the same dagger I bought for myself at the start of the game at level four. The dragon’s hoard finally yielded a +3 one for me. Other characters were more fortunate; both our wizards dual-wield staffs, now +3 and +2 each. One staff was made into residuum (possibly), and one is now just not being used. No daggers at all throughout the campaign, though, and no hand crossbows either. I expect I’ll start seeing more of the latter now that I’ve all but chosen a melee-only Path for my character.

Here are some interesting notations:
– The eladrin wizard is all about zones, area effects and mass murder, and as such deals the most damage – now even to big bosses, mainly because no attack can actually hit them at these later levels. The older wizard is more balanced between crowd control and single-target nuking.
The eladrin also has the highest and most fortunately targeted attack bonuses, so he can out-damage my striker even when fighting a single enemy; this, perhaps, owes as much to my continuing trend of abysmal sneak attack damage rolls as to the fact AoE will always > trying and failing to hit AC 29 at this level. I need to start using different d8s, seriously.
– The eladrin player is very amusing to play with. He’s always a hoot. Among other things, we took his lead in naming our group “Korvakopla” (“Ear Gang”, if you translate it, but really, you shouldn’t; you lose so much) before one session when the GM was late. There was a certain NPC, whose armor had cat ears affixed to it. The second that was described, everyone was sniggering and Joaquim’s player started on about how Joaquim thought it was so cute.
So later, inspired by the NPC now (naturally) known as “Furry” or “catfolk”, the wizards got around to figuring that we’ll all add ears to our equipment as well. Now, you can’t add mass to an item and no new properties with that simple ritual, so as a quest reward from a supposedly grateful people we asked (read: Joaquim demanded): a pair of cat ears for Joaquim, a pair of bunny ears for myself, and later we appropriated the ears of the deceased dragonborn character (who refused resurrection) for Tannel. xD God, that was great, and so was when the dragonborn’s player heard. So now we have these ears in our armors or helmets, though Tannel’s will be replaced with a large red dragon’s ears we just killed once we can find the time to fix them on…
Post 3, 4th of November, 2008

Something small said in the middle of a session and suddenly I have this need to have a background for my character that keeps me up until half one in the morning. Long campaigns = my thing. I’m also reminded of why I like fixed and pre-designed worlds that give me plenty to work with (including rules and limitations; I really am not much for complete sandbox play (and I’m stuck with hoping to god I didn’t just use a nonsensical word for the context – RPG theory isn’t one of my things either)).

-Choosing the Daggermaster path made me suddenly effective. First fight and a new single-target damage record is set.
– The minotaur got made into a Large half-dragon or dragonkin or some such. Now the wizards are practically lining up for the treatment. xD
Post 4, 12th of December, 2008

So, having progressed with the same character from level 4 to 12 and no designated end of game in sight yet, some observations that needed the long-term view:

-I prefer 4E to 3E. It’s official.
-The greatest improvements are, in order of appearance:
1. Low-level characters are effective, regardless of class.
2. Low-level characters don’t run a disproportionate risk of dying because of high crits or other bull reasons.
3. Being allowed to retrain powers and feats means, in short, that getting some survival skills in at low levels isn’t harshly penalized at later levels. Character building and optimization still goes, but the goal is not so fricking hard to arrive at anymore because you can pull a complete 180-degrees if it suits your fancy. Retraining = ❤
-Game balance holds steady – and so far fair to all sides – from low- to mid-levels. I won’t speak for high levels yet, but I have expectations that they don’t manage to ruin everything.

As of this moment the core and supplement material don’t yet enable broken combos (note: I only speak of what we had used, as opposed to the Finding Nemo-scale quest of flaw-finding that goes on in the D&D boards where people actually know all the material), but solo enemies are getting easier to deal with because of the party’s ability to pile up stuns, sleep and such. A wizard item granting enemies a large penalty to the saving throws was nerfed so that solo bosses can’t be taken down too easily.

Low points:
-The much-maligned similarity between the powers of different characters is valid. The system is far better suited to nursing a single character through many adventures as opposed to nibbling some sessions with a wizard here and some with a fighter there. I can picture a player of dime-a-dozen characters getting bored with the whole system after the third candidate.
->This one is somewhat diluted by the fact that as you get out of low levels, both your position in the party becoming established and the widening list of power options enable you to customize your abilities to perform a certain function. Strikers will still deal with single targets and so on, but other than that the options sprawl out.
-> The downside to this is that (though supplement books are fixing this), there are options that are, quite simply, superior to others on general terms. My rogue was never meant for melee, starting out with Str 10 and Con 11 and even a piss-poor AC that was, for most of the game, the lowest in the party. I wanted to be a sniper and even could’ve become one, had there been anything resembling a good alternative for the Daggermaster paragon path. Also, both our wizards chose the same paragon path, and, with only few functional differences, the two characters still do virtually the same things.
Post 5, 13th of December, 2008

I have the distinct impression that rangers are the designated sniper-types of the game, rogues being more of a melee class. Their power selection seems like it: plenty of melee powers, some ranged options here and there.

On some D&D blogs there has been concerns over the high hit point totals of monsters and hence the time combat takes. Some people have been halving the hps. Any commentary?

I haven’t been reading up on ranger’s skills that intensively, or any other class besides rogue and warlock since I had a warlock in the earlier game. But off-hand, yes, rogues don’t really have the amount of ranged-only powers that bespeaks range-focused character build options.
Rogues: melee one-target-attacks, secondarily ranged 1TA’s.
Rangers: melee or ranged attacks, one or two targets.
Warlocks: mostly ranged, the midway between a striker and a controller.

As to that second issue, there are a lot of sides to that…

First off I would say that it’s not hair-splitting to ask, “What’s ‘too long’ for these people?” Encounters that you blast your way through in less than five rounds are sure as hell erring on the side of too easy (even at low levels!), with the exception of a solo monster who bombs her save against Sleep and accrues close to fifteen coup de graces inside those five rounds. Other than that once, combat does take several rounds.
In this context I might as well mention that the classic “misunderstandings” about rules or working out their kinks takes less time for our group than deciding which power to use. I’m far faster than the rest because I (can usually) decide on my attacks in advance but compensate a little by taking more time to calculate all the damage. (Sweeeet…) Anyway, point is: making turns and rounds pass in a timely fashion takes the edge off high monster hit points.

Also, the monsters aren’t supposed to be punching bags. If they can’t be killed in a reasonable time, they should be able to do that to you instead.

Also, and this is something of a tactical element that doesn’t occur to people automatically (certainly took me a while to grasp the full import): different attacks target different defenses. Something with high AC and fortitude is usually heavily armored, and thus more susceptible to attacks targeting the Reflex or Will defense. A character or even a group can completely cripple itself by failing to target the right defense, or even fail to choose powers that target different things altogether. If only one character has to pull the team’s weight, it’s no wonder if combat gets prolonged.
As an example, in our last session there was, in short, an armored orc boss who seemed to have high-everything-except-REF. With some fortunate rolls, I dealt almost 200 points of damage to him in three rounds with my first-level at-will power while others missed entirely and switched to targeting the other enemy in the room.

In conclusion, our GM has never reduced the hit points of monsters, and I think he’s increased them on a few occasions. This is not because we players are so 1337 at finding and exploiting overpowered junk, but rather because our attack output is all-around balanced enough that we can target the weak point or support the character that can. Our combat doesn’t drag along except for individual characters at times, and I see that as nothing more than the flip side of everyone having their moments in the spotlight of effectiveness.
Post 6, December 14th, 2008

Too long means that the outcome of the battle is clear, yet people are still rolling dice and counting damage and whatnot. Like, say, a single opponent being reduced no threat by status effects and no other foes in sight.

That statement could do with some revising or compromising, since most fights aren’t “TPK or victory?” all the way to the end. However, some of this carries on to this next one:

How many encounters are there typically between extensive resting? Any skill challenges?

The amount of encounters depends entirely on how much healing surges the party, and particularly its melee characters, have left. If not speeding combat needs a reason, that’s one: our future encounters depend on how much hp we have left.

The session before last, the GM produced a carrot to dangle in front of us by increasing the amount of XP gain by 10% after the first milestone. I’m almost certain it was supposed to be after the third encounter, but last session it was after the second, so…
Anyway, that has already made us get into a fight twice when someone had no surges at all.
To summarize, there are usually two or three encounters, depending on how badly we get trashed. It has to be admitted that having no Leader and two wizards means that certain types of encounters make us head for the comfy beds faster than half the party would need to.

Skill challenges are few, and outside finding traps or secret doors or disabling traps, they are fewer still. Arcane knowledge is the thing most often rolled, I believe, since, y’know, two wizards, but even those don’t usually take the form of a challenge as such.
Some elaboration:
-We have no charisma-heavy character to get into negotiations, or anyone proficient enough in diplomacy to actually be able to convince enemies to surrender. If we had, it would take place quite often. We used to try but it didn’t take.
-Sneaking past enemies or farther into a dungeon to scout to find stuff out rarely works, since the only one who might be able to (yours truly) doesn’t speak many languages and doesn’t have darkvision. We’ve ran into that wall so often by now that we really don’t even bother anymore.
-There’s only been one instance in which trying to find our way about the wilderness was an actual challenge. Some module with enchanted woods, didn’t seem to matter what we rolled. xD
-My character has had an item called Basket of Everlasting Provisions since I bought his starting inventory. Cuts down on the root-grubbing and meat-mincing. Hooray!

Take all that and your knowledge of what roles skills traditionally play in D&D, and you have our skill uses covered.

How do you balance the amount of time spent in combat IRL vs. XP gained?

While there have been cases of someone bawling about the length of a fight or said person’s character’s impotence against the enemy (most fights, really, with the latter), no one has ever bawled about the balance between time spent and XP gained. Never even occurred to me, but from what I recall, the balance holds steady.

Also, the “lots of brutes” thing doesn’t apply with us, because in the case of there being “much of anything” our wizards just start smiling.

~ by gastogh on February 25, 2009.

One Response to “The Chronicles of Korvakopla #1”

  1. […] The first post is about the adventures of Korvakopla and is edited copy-pastings from a forum. URL: […]

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